Review of the Day: New Socks
New Socks by Bob Shea. Little Brown & Company. $12.99
What is it you want out of your average everyday picture book? Do you want a story? A plot of some sort with a beginning, middle, and an end? Or are your demands a little more broad? I mean, what if a picture book went and just talked about socks for pages at a time? These days, publishers of children’s literature have had their eyes opened wide by the phenomenal success of titles like, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”. So suddenly it’s perfectly okay for the narrator of a work for preschoolers to talk to them one-on-one without having to go so far as to dredge up a standard storyline. With Bob Shea's, "New Socks", all you have t do is combine an ultra-mod look with an over-the-top enthusiastic presentation and you’ve got yourself a book that walks the line between what’s cool and what’s inspired.
A glasses-wearing yellow chicklet (who is apparently named Leon, though the book never calls him that) asks you to guess exactly what it might be about him that’s so new. The glasses? Not so much. No, he’s wearing his New Socks. They fit him to a tee, look good, and there’s nothing better for sliding across a wooden floor. As we watch, the chicken uses the socks to overcome his fear of big slides and pretend to ring up the President. When at last his energy dies down a little the chicken says to the reader, “What can’t these New Socks do?” The last line in the book sums it all up. “Now I’m all excited to get pants!”
First off, this may well be the very first hipster picture book I’ve encountered, published in the last five years. Mod titles are a dime a dozen and you can find more rock, rockabilly, punk, jazz, and blues books for kids than you’ll ever have a need for. But how many of us have ever encountered a hero with thick black-framed glasses and a singular fashion sense? If the chicken in this book confessed that he found these socks at an awesome vintage store in Williamsburg for $3.00, I wouldn’t blink an eye. The fact that it takes a childhood staple (a sometimes unnatural love for the inanimate) and molds it into a picture book format is just gravy on the cake. So to speak.
As I may have mentioned before, “New Socks” probably owes its very existence to “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”. This isn’t to say that the two books are particularly similar. Aside from the avian hero who talks to the reader, the two are fairly different in terms of tone. No, it just seems to me that had “Pigeon” not garnered itself a Caldecott Honor and numerous profitable accolades, Little Brown & Co. might have been less inclined to take a chance on the pair of bright orange footies found here. The Mod look, coupled with the joyful storyline, makes the book unique. I can think of plenty of books that could be considered “good design” but that don’t have so much as a lick of humor to them. So it’s nice to sometimes see an exception to this rule. I'm not sure how repeated readings will fare, mind you. Still, I can see adults growing tired of the reading of this book long before their kids ever do.
“New Socks” to my mind, is the very antithesis of the “Fancy Nancy” books. Clean lines. A color palette of orange, yellow, and aqua blue. And nary a sparkle or a smidgen of glitter in sight! I mean, technically it’s all about fashion, but in a completely different kid-centric way. Where “Fancy Nancy” is all about embracing the idea of fanciness in a pseudo-grown-up style, “New Socks” feels more open and honest. We’ve all had that one piece of clothing that we’re just so jolly well pleased with. I mean, let’s face it. If I had a pair of big, comfy, plush, bright, beautiful orange socks I’d probably go all nuts over them myself. The chicken here is true to himself. This is what pleases him and he’s just so happy with his newest acquisition that it’s all he can do not to tell you about it for pages on end.
You know who this chicken character reminds me of? Have you ever watched those old Looney Tunes sequences involving Foghorn Leghorn and his small bespectacled chicken friend? This, right here, is that same chicken only modernized, hipstered up, and contemporized within an inch of his life. As I page through the book, I wonder if it will end up being a good read aloud with kids. Put just the right amount of force, bluster, and sheer good spirits into a reading and this chicken may veritably leap off the page. It’s worth a shot anyway. As new books go, it’s nice to find a title that’s so well and truly pleased with itself. If you’re looking for something fun, but you want to purchase a picture book that’ll suck in style-centric parents, you couldn’t ask for a more ideal title than “New Socks”.
On shelves now.
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